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Space Science

The Rutan SpaceShipOne Revealed 404

smartalix writes "Burt Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, announced that they have been developing a commercial manned space program in secret for the past two years. The system consists of a carrier vehicle called the White Knight and a piggyback (actually underslung) orbital spaceplane called SpaceShipOne. My money is on this effort capturing the X Prize." Well, it's pretty, whatever it is. Space.com has a story with pictures for those of you who weren't quick enough to hit scaled.com before it melted.
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The Rutan SpaceShipOne Revealed

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2003 @02:51PM (#5761015)
    will never ever happen.

    I repeat it will ever ever happen. Maybe somebody may win this X-prize ... but dont expect cheap trips to space .. ever.

  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @02:57PM (#5761071) Homepage
    Escape velocity is only high if you are using ballistic flight. Flying under continuous power, you can go 1 mph and still make it to orbit, provided you can sustain that speed for long enough.

    If you are using aerodynamic lift to reach a given altitude, the delta-V you need to reach orbit or break out of the Earth's gravity well is much less than it is to do the same from a stationary vertical liftoff from the surface.
  • Re:In Secret? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by foolish ( 46697 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:03PM (#5761112)
    Did you miss the fact these ARE full scale?

    Essentially Rutan is going 'Look at what I built, we're going to launch this for the X-Prize and none of you can HOPE to catch up'

    The only things they have left are flight tests with the rocket suite. The White Knight is working and has flown some test flights... It's the SS1 that need some flight time before the X-Prize attempt.

    It'll be interesting to see what XCor does in response to this.
  • by smartalix ( 84502 ) <smartalix@yaGAUSShoo.com minus math_god> on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:07PM (#5761145) Homepage
    You probably said that nobody could fly around the world on a tank of gas, too.
  • Ugly, ugly!!! (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:10PM (#5761164)
    aarghh it's ugly...

    So what???
    Who gives a shit if it's ugly.
    If it can take me into space and back safely, I won't care about colour or shape.
    hey, who would even care about the inside, or the service onboard? I wouldn't.
    We live in an age where most people can only dream about going into space. Lett us first make that dream come true, and then care about appearence.

    And besides, suppose it was would you hestiate to take it, if it would get you into space?

  • Re:In Secret? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by peacefinder ( 469349 ) <alan@dewitt.gmail@com> on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:17PM (#5761219) Journal
    I imagine that they have gone public now because they're ready to go public. It sounds like they've done everything they can reasonably do in private.

    Probably they have reached the stage of testing where the tests can't be hidden anymore. When they send piggyback aircraft up and start separation tests, it's going to be pretty obvious what they're working on.

    He also makes it clear in the space.com article that he is not looking for funding.
  • by CommieLib ( 468883 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:25PM (#5761267) Homepage
    Between the article and the qualifications [xprize.org] of the X-Prize, we can cobble together what the minimum performance levels of this craft are:

    From the XPrize site:

    • able to carry three people to 100 kilometers (62.5 miles)
    • Returns safely to Earth (duh)
    • Repeats the launch with the same ship within 2 weeks
    While the article notes a higher performance level:

    a three-person single-stage fully reusable spaceship up to 112 miles (180 kilometers), giving those onboard some five minutes of microgravity. In addition, two-stage expendable boosters could be lobbed skyward from the aircraft, placing micro-satellite payloads of up to 80 pounds (36 kilograms) into low Earth orbit.

    So we're talking about a total 700 pound payload including crew, capable of traveling to low earth orbit, where many satellites travel. I wonder if you exchanged a crewman and the microsattelite payload, you might have enough fuel to de-orbit with a satellite (though you'd have to have a bay large enough to take it).

    If nothing else, I can see a satellite repair / refueling service come out of this in no time. Seems like the next step is to deploy a ferry to LEO that can truck the payload to GEO and beyond.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:35PM (#5761330)
    Wank wank wank

    NASA doesnt give a shit, NASA has a completely different agenda than space tourism.

    X prize is no threat to NASA, if anything, it's a private resource that NASA can tap to further it's own objectives (space station, another moon mission, mars missions, etc).
  • ugly space plane (Score:4, Insightful)

    by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:35PM (#5761334) Journal
    Burt's designs have always been a bit bizare looking especial when viewed on the ground. Remember that he designs flying amchine and they fly like a dream. This guy builds machines with little regard for what's conventional, and great regard for what's functional
  • by Agar ( 105254 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @03:40PM (#5761355)
    While I realize that a paint job can cover many ills, it does appear that Rutan is significantly farther along in constructing his X-Prize vehicle than Carmack.

    Comparing pictures, you see:
    Armadillo Aerospace Launch Vehicle [armadilloaerospace.com]
    Scaled Composites aircraft and drop ship [space.com]

    Perhaps one of the issues is that Armadillo publishes their status (and myriad problems) openly (see the latest update [armadilloaerospace.com] for example). No one knows what issues Scaled Composites has had as they worked in secret, but it's easy to feel like Rutan's running a professional company while Carmack is leading a group of (brilliant, talented) hobbyists.

    I'd be interested in hearing Armadillo/Carmack's perspective on the competitive landscape, now that this new player has made an announcement.
  • by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) <(gro.tserofed) (ta) (todhsals)> on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:14PM (#5761620)
    The scaled.com website has several high-resolution photos of the SpaceShipOne and the launch vehicle. They all look pretty real, except that the red rocket nozzle is pretty clearly pasted on in photoshop.

    The 3/4 front view that's posted in the article appears to have a real "not-for-flight" mockup nozzle, but the shape and color are different than the rear-view photos. The rocket nozzles in the rear-view shots have clear cut-and-paste artifacts around them.

    It's arguably OK to have a mockup nozzle -- it's a longstanding convention that red "not-for-flight" mockup parts get put on during construction and design, and there's no reason to have the real rocket motor on the device for an aerodynamic flight test. But photoshopping a more realistic nozzle is not OK.

    Burt, burt, burt -- don't blow it like that!

  • Re:In Secret? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The_K4 ( 627653 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:31PM (#5761740)
    Yeah, if they are ready to test the orbiter (which it sounds like they are) they need to get more FAA approvals for that. They can tests airplanes without really cataching any attention. The instant they apply to tests an orbiter it'll be all over the news.
  • by robi2106 ( 464558 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @04:34PM (#5761764) Journal
    I was pretty impressed with their info and site until you pointed this out and I took a look. My experience in graphics programs stops at PaintShop Pro and using it to change resolutions/image types/sizes, etc. But I could tell that the several pixles surrounding the nozle were obviously artifacts of image insertion.

    I am disappointed that any agency seeking credibility would do that. But time will tell the merits of their work.

  • Re:Rutan history (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:04PM (#5761977) Homepage
    Hold on there, skippy.

    Overpriced comes from poor cost control, not poor design.

    Noisy slow fuel hog comes from poor engine design and selection.

    The Starship was a great design that turned into a mediocre aircraft. Burt Rutan has a long history of brilliant, successful aircraft designs.
  • Re:Rutan history (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nuntius ( 92696 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:15PM (#5762040)
    Disclaimer: I'm an electrical engineer, not an aero engineer.

    However, living in Wichita at the time, I knew several of the aero engineers who were working on the project. Without exception, they said the plane was horribly flawed - before it was even finished.

    Sure, the engines may have been part of the problem, but they were a small part. The main problem was the whole design. Putting the engines _behind_ the plane on the wings where they did subjected the props to large amounts of turbulence. The engineers had to redesign the fuselage and wings to work around this problem, but it was still less efficient than a "traditional" design.

    Also, the engines were on each side of the cabin - where the "big whigs" sit. Engines are noisy, so they had to put large amounts of sound-deadening material in the cabin... which adds weight... which drags the plane down... which again makes it less efficient.

    As for overpriced, the Starship was the first big commercial plane to have the fuselage made out of one big piece of composite material - as Burt specified. Developing this technology and constructing a massive kiln caused several of the major expenses in the project. This expense was due to the design, not poor cost control.

    I'll just sum it up again, the aero engineers hated the plane when they first saw it. The only people who believed in it were managers and other big shots who didn't have experience in the industry.
  • Re:In Secret? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:19PM (#5762062) Homepage
    You didn't even make a cursory inspection of the article, did you? Neither did your bone-head mods.

    The man said that this was "flight hardware". That means it's the actual vehicle that is going to do the mission.

    He said he wasn't soliciting money.

    It's still undergoing flight tests, but they're full-up hardware in the loop tests. Rutan is not going to make an X-Prize attempt before he's actually done it successfully more than once outside the scrutiny of the public (and the judges).

    It's a PR stunt, yes...but for somebody who actually knows something about things that go up in the air (that'd be me) it's pretty fucking impressive.
  • by Dethpickle ( 593107 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:39PM (#5762173)
    This seems kindof a modern shot at the X15 program.

    The X15 got piggybacked up to 40k feet and then would fly/rocket up to 350k feet. Rutan's craft is going to be starting out almost twice as high.

    Granted, part of the purpose of the X15 was going fast in addition to going high. Rutan's probably won't go that fast as low, but all those draggy airfoils won't be so bad higher up.

    Perhaps someone with some aerodynamics knowledge could comment on exactly how benificial the higher starting altitude is.
  • Re:Rutan history (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:50PM (#5762245) Homepage
    I don't know anything about aerospace, but I have to wonder why you think this plane was such a great design? The designer looks like he makes pretty designs, but is that the only redeeming quality?

    Frank Lloyd Wright made pretty buildings, but he was also famous for making things that weren't functional, and sometimes were just broken. His house on the waterfall is a classic example. The damn thing is falling over now because he valued pretty over solid design. (IIRC the engineer who built it told him the design would fail, and now many years later they have to spend millions to try to retrofit the house so it doesn't collapse).

    I get the feeling this guy is the same way. So here's your chance to defend him. Is it all about the thing being pretty, or is it just an all around great design?
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:56PM (#5762287)
    > X prize is no threat to NASA, if anything, it's a private resource that NASA can tap to further it's own objectives (space station, another moon mission, mars missions, etc).

    In a perfect world, yes.

    In the real world, when Congress tells NASA that due to the availability of a $10M launch platform, (as opposed to the $500M Shuttle) that NASA's launch budget is being cut by 98%, NASA cares very much.

    In the real real world, when $CONTRACTOR tells $LOBBYIST to tell $CONGRESSMAN that the existence of a $10M launch platform threatens $100M per year of funding for jobs in his district, Rutan has to be very careful. Not so much of NASA, or evil Men-In-Black conspiracy theories, but of the FAA and other legal roadblocks that Congress can put up to stop him in order to keep the pr0k a flowin'.

  • by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Friday April 18, 2003 @05:59PM (#5762308) Homepage
    Wouldn't surprise me if they were photoshopping on a LESS realistic nozzle to disguise their design.

    Just a thought.
  • Re:Rutan history (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Friday April 18, 2003 @06:10PM (#5762374) Homepage
    Canard aircraft are, in principle, more efficient than conventional aircraft.

    In a conventional layout, the horizontal tail generates lift in the downward direction, to balance the center of gravity, which for stability reasons is located ahead of the lift vector of the main wing. Therefore, the main wing must generate enough lift to carry the aircraft, and enough lift to offset the downward force from the tail. This extra lift also creates extra induced drag. (Any time you create lift, you also create drag. No getting around it.)

    Since the canard locates lifting surfaces at either end of the airplane, with the CG in the middle, both surfaces can generate lift in the upward direction. Less lift overall is required.

    Properly designed canard aircraft are also extremely resistant to stalling. Since the canard is typically shorter in chord than the main wing, it will stall first and bring the nose of the airplane down.

    Rutan has built two aircraft that have been resounding public successes (the Vari-EX homebuilt and its derivatives and the Voyager), and numerous military prototypes. Just for fun, he designed his personal aircraft (the Boomerang) to be completely asymmetrical.

    The thing that I love about aero. engineering is that aircraft that are properly designed also, by virtue of the laws of nature that drive their shape, have an aesthetic sensibility to them. So, in that sense, it IS about the thing being pretty. Obviously, there's more to it than that, but there is a fundamental aesthetic to good aerodynamic design.

    Rutan also has a history of extreme lateral thinking when solving aerodynamic problems. Unlike most designers, he throws the history book out the window when he builds a new airplane, and he often comes up with insightful and clever new layouts in the process.

    The Pond Racer was another favorite of mine, but its engines were problematic. Unfortunately, it crashed in 1993, killing its pilot. Air racing is dangerous.
  • by asadodetira ( 664509 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @06:24PM (#5762443) Homepage
    The cockpit image seems to have a lot of retouching too. The screen in the middle probably can't be seen clearly in an actual photograph.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @07:35PM (#5762743)
    > If the FAA doesn't like it, there is always Canada. My guess is that the Canuks would love to have a potential multi-billion dollar space program open up in their purview. If not Canada, then Mexico, Brazil, France or Austrailia.

    I was about to say "Mexico, Brazil, or Australia, sure, maybe French Guinea or whatever, but never Canada", because Canada's nowhere near (nor does own any land near) the equator.

    But now that you mention it, it's a piggyback vehicle based on an airplane! If the carrier vehicle is capable of midair refueling, Burt can launch from anywhere on the planet.

    No more big geographical premium for being near the equator, no huge "launch pad" infrastructure to build, no restrictions like "Can only launch $FOO-sats from Vandenburg, can only launch $BAR-sats from Cape Canaveral", just take off from any runway, fly to whatever latitude is appropriate for your payload's desired inclination, point the plane in the desired direction, and punch it. Turn the carrier vehicle around and fly home.

  • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Friday April 18, 2003 @07:51PM (#5762810)
    Take a look at this [scaled.com] picture and note the position of the shadow on the rocket nozzle and the shadow of the launch vehicle cockpit of the landing gear on the right. Now compare to the picture at the bottom of this page [scaled.com]. Note that the shadow of the cockpit is identical to the first picture, as are other shadows cast by the vehicle. But in that picture the nozzle is completely in shadow. One of the pictures must be altered.

    In fact the first picture seems to be an altered version of the second picture. What's different:

    • The rocket nozzle.
    • In the first pic SpaceShipOne is mated to the launcher, in the second pic SpaceShipOne is resting on it's own landing gear.
    • In the second pic the launcher does not have it's jet engines installed (in fact those jet engines are not installed in any of the ground based pictures I've seen except the first pic).
    What's the same:
    • The shadows are in exactly the same positions (so the pictures where taken at the same time of day, to within a few minutes).
    • The cracks in the ground are exactly the same so the vehicles have been places in the same position, despite major work having been performed (the jet engines, the mating superstructure).
    • The backgrounds are identical, right down to another vehicle on the tarmac obscured in exactly the same way by the landing gear on the right. All the other planes in the background are also in the same locations.
    IMO, the picture of the mated vehicles has been faked from the picture of the separate vehicles. SpaceShipOne's landing gear has been removed (suspiciously leaving no hatch for it to emerge from), the mating superstructure has been added, and the launcher's jet engines have been added. I can only imagine this has been done to make it appear that they are further advanced than they actually are.
  • Busted! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dr. Zowie ( 109983 ) <(gro.tserofed) (ta) (todhsals)> on Friday April 18, 2003 @08:49PM (#5763018)
    The "mated" image includes the shadows of the landing gear from the non-mated image in the litho.

    Well spotted!
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2003 @03:51AM (#5787628) Homepage
    If there were only 5 computers in the entire world and they were so expensive that only the richest kings of Europe could afford to own one, that would really suck, right? Well, how great would it be if someone built a smaller computer that was cheap enough that a normal person could buy one? At first these alternative options might not be as good or particularly affordable, but surely that situation would improve. Perhaps eventually everyone would own one.
    That works for computers. But as an analogy between the Shuttle and Rutan's craft it fails utterly. The Shuttle is a heavy lift orbital vehicle. Rutan's craft is a no lift suborbital vehicle. The difference is not only of degree, but of kind.
    Analogy: who cares if this initial version isn't the Rolls Royce of spacecraft? As its price goes down and availability goes up, more and more people and companies will get involved in the space travel industry. The first try doesn't have to be the best thing ever; if that is the aim, you get the Shuttle.
    If it were a spacecraft, you'd have a point. But Rutan's ship isn't a spacecraft.

    That's a problem I've had with the X-prize all along. It's not designed to emphasize the building of a spacecraft, it's designed to emphasize the design of a thrill ride. Their hope is that the thrill ride will inspire people to build real spacecraft. Some X-prize ships have a clear upgrade path to useful orbital capicity, some do not. Rutan's is among the latter.

Solutions are obvious if one only has the optical power to observe them over the horizon. -- K.A. Arsdall